Remembering Tiny Hearts, Fingers, and Toes Gone Too Soon

Life changing moments of expecting a baby can begin with a positive pregnancy test, hearing a little heartbeat for the first time, experiencing those first symptoms which require constant bathroom attention, and more. Many dream of one day becoming a parent and welcoming home a new bundle of joy. They envision many cuddles and hugs, a closet of cute outfits, wondering who this little person will become in the future, and which parent will they look like.

But there are many families who suffer from the heart wrenching reality of never meeting this little person who instantly made a lasting impact on their lives. For some, the loss is immediate and for others, it occurs over time. The dream of watching this child grow up is now gone and they are left with an empty void. Questions of, “why me?” Wondering what they could have done differently to not be experiencing this painful and unexplainable grief.

Photo credit: Anton Darius Sollers

Photo credit: Bastien Jaillot

One in four.

One in four pregnant people will experience an early pregnancy or infant loss in their lifetime. For some, they are the one in four more than once. That is a quarter of every person who becomes pregnant. An early pregnancy or infant loss is considered an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. Regardless of when or how these precious babies leave, they should still be remembered and the families shown love and support.

October is recognized as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month with October 15 as the actual day of remembrance. President Ronald Reagan first gave this proclamation in 1988 and stated,

“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.”

Well said. But how does a family progress after they experience a loss of this magnitude? How can one support and help a family when they need a listening ear and shoulder to cry on? Will this topic continue to be merely spoken of in our society? Often times, the discussion of pregnancy and infant loss doesn’t come up until someone is in the midst of it happening to them.

If you are in the midst of a loss, I am sorry you are going through this. If you have experienced a loss in the past, I am sorry. You will remember your child for the remainder of your lifetime. Your baby matters and you have every right to honor and remember them in your own special ways. Never feel like you are alone and if at any point you need support, a bereavement support group, bereavement doula, or counselor may help you with your feelings and talk through what you are experiencing.

Photo credit: Jonatan Becerra

If you are a support person, like a friend or family member, you play a great role in processing this grief. Being a listening ear without offering advice makes a world of difference. Other ideas include providing easy to heat prepared meals, assisting with other children, making a gift basket with postpartum supplies (pads, lavender oil, milk storage bags if donating milk, a comfortable night gown, a journal), or hiring a bereavement doula. If the baby was given a name, having a teddy bear made with their name and birthdate gives the family something special to have as a keepsake. Being present and physically there as a support person will forever be engraved in the family’s memories. This is a difficult time for them and holidays, birthdays, and special dates may be hard for them as well. Send a card occasionally and let them know you are thinking of them and their baby isn’t forgotten.

As with any situation, there are many things that should not be said either. For instance, ‘You can always try again and have another one’ is a big no-no. You don’t know what it may have taken for that pregnancy to take place. When in doubt, be gentle in the conversation and listen more than anything else. A loss is hard at any point in life, but it is extremely hard when those tiny hearts, fingers and toes are gone before they had a chance to experience life on their own.

The topic of pregnancy and early infant loss, in my opinion, isn’t mentioned enough in our society. It happens on a daily basis to someone and the effects of it are devastating and can lead to postpartum depression. Know that it is okay to talk about it. Some may choose to keep their feelings to themselves but others want you to say their baby’s name. The grief and emptiness can be a great weight to carry alone. As birth workers and friends, we can help shoulder that weight.

Chanté Perryman is a doula, maternity coach, childbirth educator and birth advocate at Baby Dreams Maternity Concierge. She specializes in encouraging and supporting families during their pregnancies, births and postpartum transition. She believes in birth choices along with respectful care and evidence based education.